Accept Failure

Today’s Editorial was originally published on Feb 22, 2012. It is being re-run as Steve is out of town.

We don’t expect ourselves to be perfect, do we? Is there ever any project you tackle that you might not complete? Is there a doubt that it might not work as expected, or that it may need substantial rework? I think that the vast majority of projects I undertake have some level of risk involved, and while I might understand that, I’m not sure I ever believe I will ever fail.

Most things that I’ve built in technology don’t work the first time, and in fact, I expect that. I have learned from mistakes, corrected the problems, and usually finished them with some level of success. That’s the way that so many of us in technology approach our jobs. We start building, find issues, and then fix them.

However you cannot every eliminate the risk that something will fail. There are times we need to abandon the project or abandon the work done and rebuild the software from scratch. Those failures should be learning opportunities, and should allow developers to improve their work. From my perspective it seems that too many managers, however, view failures as events that have to be avoided. Perfection and success are the only possible outcomes that are acceptable. One slip up and you may get fired.

It seems that’s what managers think about their career, so they continue to push down dead end roads, and throw more resources at a project to recover some small level of success.

We will always make mistakes. The true failure should come from failing to learn from the mistakes and improving your future work. If management cannot tolerate these setbacks, this problems, and allow for them, then the work will not only continue to be substandard, but people will spend more time worrying about avoiding blame than actually looking to improve their skills.

I can’t tell you when work should be abandoned, or a project is hopeless, but every project ought to be examined periodically for this situation, especially when it is apparent that it is in trouble. You can’t save all projects, but you can learn to let some of them go, or change the situation, before it becomes a bigger problem than it is.

Steve Jones


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